Who? Christina who? So rang the scoffing chorus of dissent from the discontented graduating seniors this past March when University President Mary Sue Coleman announced CNN’s chief international correspondent and world-renowned journalist Christiane Amanpour as this year’s commencement speaker. Lauded and revered as Amanpour is within the world of journalism, detractors didn’t buy her as the big-name star a university of such formidable size and prestige should be able to ensnare.
But whatever reservations the class of 2006 may have had about their speaker – and whatever statement their ignorance of international news’ most recognizable face might have made on behalf of their intellectual preparedness to enter the world – the shiver of enthusiasm rippling through Amanpour’s riveted audience last week proved her critics wrong.
From her opening joke likening the semi-demolished stadium to a war zone, to the compelling urgency with which she implored students to find their passion and take action in the world for a positive change, Amanpour was uniformly impressive and inspiring.
Her story was one of character triumphing over adversity. Growing up in a comfortable existence in Iran only to flee during the revolution, Amanpour spoke of the way she transformed her early struggles into the power to demand accountability from the powerful, and shake the complacency of a worldwide audience grown apathetic in its ignorance.
The enormousness of her life’s success and the unrelenting passion with which she imbued her words produced an effect on even the most jaded and disinterested students. “Self-absorbed is so yesterday; it’s out,” she declared with characteristic conviction. ” ‘Cool’ is now to be a citizen of our world, not just an inhabitant.”
The University is to be congratulated for its choice of a speaker possessed of such dignity and poise, imparting a timely message of international compassion to students now embarking into a global world. But the success of the commencement address was more a credit to Amanpour than to the University, which, thanks to its now-characteristically late announcement, only secured a phenomenal speaker by chance.
In recent years, graduates have become accustomed to disappointment when they show up decked out in their caps and gowns – a trend perhaps best exemplified by chants of “spell check” from last year’s graduates in reference to the befuddling choice of a Xerox scientist. True, some speakers have, like Amanpour, proven surprisingly eloquent and effective before the graduates, but often they have not.
The school’s name commands too much respect to leave the commencement speaker in the air long after comparable institutions have booked big stars, and the graduates of this fine university are far too used to four years of the best to be satisfied with anything less.